|Operator:||British-India Steam Navigation Company|
|Port of registry:||Glasgow, United Kingdom|
|Ordered:||by British Shipping Controller as SS War Roebuck taken over by BISN|
|Builder:||Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Jarrow|
|Fate:||Sunk, February 16, 1941 after being torpedoed by a German U-Boat. 85 fatalities. Wreck now lies at a depth of 4,700 metres.|
|Class & type:||Steam merchant ship|
|Length:||399 ft 3 in (121.69 m)|
|Beam:||52 ft 2 in (15.90 m)|
|Draught:||25 ft 8 1⁄4 in (7.830 m)|
|Depth:||28 ft 5 in (8.66 m)|
|Installed power:||517 nhp|
|Propulsion:||triple expansion engine, coal|
|Speed:||10.5 knots (19.4 km/h)|
The SS Gairsoppa was a British steam merchant ship built in Jarrow and launched in 1919. After a long civilian career, she saw service during the Second World War. She was named in honour of the town of Gersoppa on the banks of river Sharavathi in Karnataka, India, which due to its easy access to water transportation and as a distribution centre for crops including pepper, was the commercial capital for centuries.
She sailed with several convoys, before joining Convoy SL 64 in February 1941. Gairsoppa left the convoy when she exhausted the majority of her fuel and was making her way to Galway, Ireland, when a German U-boat fired a torpedo that sank her and sent 85 people to their deaths.
The wreck of the Gairsoppa was discovered in 2011, and it was announced that an operation to recover its cargo of silver bullion, with an estimated value of £150 million, would begin in 2012. On 18 July 2013 Odyssey Marine Exploration, of Tampa, Florida, reported that it had recovered 48 tons of silver, making this probably "the deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history" (as the Gairsoppa rests in 4,700 metres (15,400 ft) of water).
Gairsoppa was 399 feet 3 inches (121.69 m) long, with a beam of 52 feet 2 inches (15.90 m). She had a depth of 28 feet 5 inches (8.66 m) and a draught of 25 feet 8 1⁄4 inches (7.830 m). She was propelled by a 517 nhp triple expansion steam engine driving a single screw propeller. The engine was built by Palmers. It had cylinders of 27 inches (69 cm), 44 inches (110 cm) and 78 inches (200 cm) diameter by 48 inches (120 cm) stroke. It could propel the ship at 10.5 knots (19.4 km/h).
Ordered by the British Shipping Controller as SS War Roebuck from Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company of Jarrow, she was taken over during construction by the British-India Steam Navigation Company, and completed as SS Gairsoppa. Gairsoppa was completed in November 1919. Her port of registry was Glasgow. She was allocated the United Kingdom Official Number 141924. On 29 April 1930, she ran aground at Fulta Point, India. She was refloated undamaged later that day. Gairsoppa used the Code Letters GCZB from 1934.
Attached to convoy SL-64 under master Gerald Hyland, she was returning from India to Britain in 1941 with a cargo of silver ingots destined for the Royal Mint, pig iron and tea. She joined the 8 knot convoy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, but while in a heavy storm and running low on coal off the coast of neutral Ireland, Gairsoppa split off from the convoy and set course for Galway harbour at a reduced speed of 5 knots.
A German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 aircraft circled her at 08:00 on 16 February, and at 22.30, U-101 under the command of Ernst Mengersen, spotted her. Torpedoed on the starboard side in No. 2 hold, she sank within 20 minutes (Note: German logbooks kept in German time state she sank at 00.08 hours on February 17, 1941), claiming the lives of 85 people. Her last reported position was Coordinates: , 300 miles (480 km) southwest of Galway Bay. The wreck lies 4,700 metres (15,400 ft) below the surface.
It was thought that three lifeboats launched, but only one in the charge of the second officer, R. H. Ayres, with four Europeans and two Lascars on board, made it away; the rest of the crew was lost. By the 13th day only the second officer, the radio officer, and one seaman gunner remained alive. Ayres and his boat reached the Cornish coast two weeks later at Caerthillian Cove in the parish of Landewednack. The boat capsized before the Lizard lifeboat could reach them, and only the second officer was pulled from the sea alive. Two of the men aboard, Robert Frederick Hampshire (Radio Officer), and an unnamed Indian seaman, died trying to get ashore. They are buried at St Wynwallow's, Church Cove, Landewednack. Ayres was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his attempts to rescue his fellow sailors; he lived until 1992.
The eleven crew members who died are commemorated on the 51st panel of the Tower Hill Memorial, and the seventy lascars who did not survive the Gairsoppa's sinking are commemorated on the Chittagong War Memorial.
In 1989, the British government invited tenders to salvage the cargo and received just one, from Deepwater Recovery and Exploration Ltd. After a further tender in January 2010, the government awarded a US company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a two-year contract to find and salvage the 7,000,000 ounces (200 t) of silver, which when the ship was lost was worth £600,000 ($1.8 million US - $28.96 million in 2015).
On September 26, 2011, Odyssey Marine confirmed the identity and location of the Gairsoppa after less than two months of searching. The wreck of the ship was found on the sea floor at a depth of nearly 4,700 metres (2.9 miles) off the coast of Ireland. Footage of the wreck was provided by the company on September 26, 2011 and published on the NYTimes.com website. Odyssey Marine later reported that its recovery effort in 2012 yielded 1,218 silver ingots weighing approximately 1,400,000 ounces (40 t), and that a further recovery effort had commenced operations on May 29, 2013. Odyssey Marine believes the site contains a residual 1,599 insured silver ingots and an unknown, possibly substantial, amount of uninsured silver. Odyssey will retain 80% of the value of any recovered cargo, with the remainder going to HM Treasury. On July 23, 2013 it was reported that a total of 61 tons of silver bullion had been recovered from the wreckage, with an estimated value of £137 million ($210 million US).
In 2014 the Royal Mint issued 20,000 commemorative 50p coins struck using a portion of the silver recovered.
- Record treasure hauled from shipwreck by Amanda Onion. Wed Jul 18, 2012 09:42 AM ET, Discovery News.
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- Davies, Lizzy (September 26, 2011). "Atlantic wreck set to yield £150m haul". London: The Guardian. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
- Gairsoppa at uboat.net
- Gairsoppa at convoy web
- Gairsoppa at Shipwrecks UK
- WW II shipwreck pays off $210 million in silver for US salvagers